As I read Acts 16, I realise this call in a vision to Paul was very clear; so unequivocal that he instantly prepared to go, firmly "concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel" there. (v 10)
I find this part of the biblical account of Paul's life fascinating. What a man of God Paul became. A fearless preacher, teacher and evangelist. His knowledge, steeped in the Tora, enabled him to foot it theologically with the best of Jewish leaders and scholars. And that was what drove his practice of heading straight to the local synagogue whenever he headed into a new town. Paul had his methodology down pat. Here was a proven formula, ordained by God Himself it appeared.
f it seemed obvious doing things this way brought God's blessing, why would you not persist with it? To Paul this seemed to be the best method to have the greatest impact for God, so why would he not continue with it? I like no-brainers too! I can relate to Paul and his thinking. I would like to think I would take a similar approach. There's a comfortable level of certainty through control over methods and results. After all, isn't that the sort of thinking we've all adopted in some shape at some time in our ministries for God? Paul witnessed "the churches strengthened in their faith and growing daily in numbers". (v 5) Wasn't that what it was all about?! Wasn't that the reason for being?
Let's note that the Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from preaching in the province of Asia. The Spirit also blocked them from entering the adjoining town of Bithynia in Mysia. Then came the vision, containing the welcoming 'call' to Macedonia. He immediately made tracks for Philippi at the heart of that province. I love Paul's obedience we see here. Don't you? He didn't hesitate for a moment, it seems.
There can’t have been ten Jewish men in Philippi, the requirement for the establishment of a synagogue. Paul couldn’t head to the ‘local’ to establish his connections and to implement his ‘winning formula’. There wasn’t one! Seeking fellowship and an ability to connect with like-minded people, Paul and his companions instead head outside the city to where they expect people to be praying. And there, by the river, they find women, one of whom is Lydia, ‘a worshipper of God’. Instead of meeting with an august group of male theologians, here Paul focusses on one god-fearing lady.
Talk about being thrown a curve ball! What had happened to the way in which things always worked, with the blessing of God? What is going on here? And what can we learn?
Enter Covid-19. Here comes the curve ball for us!
For us at GC3 it has caused us to rejig some of how we do things. The biggest negative impact has been on our 2020 Headspace team. The initial lockdown came just at the time the team was to embark on their work block, earning funds to pay their fees. Sadly, C-19 meant the team had to return to their homes. With international travel suspended, the usual Block Four in Thailand for cultural immersion was no longer possible. When the team was able to assemble again and resume the programme, they instead completed a NZ Road Trip. This enabled them to connect with groups to be exposed to cross-cultural influences and to provide human resource help to various ministries. It's been a totally different year for the team, but one in which they have still been able to experience God at work around them. They will all be the richer of God as a consequence as well.
And for our mission partners, what a raft of dilemmas they have been faced with! Each has faced unique circumstances around safety in-country; their ability to travel either to NZ or back to their chosen ministry; the needs of family; even the considered instructions from sending church or mission agency. It's been a privilege to journey with partners during these uncertain times.
In March when C-19 struck, 69% of our people on the field chose to remain there. Since then, for a variety of reasons, others have returned home and others are due. Some have had to defer their plans to return indefinitely. On the flip side, three couples have chosen to return, to Fiji, Laos and South Sudan, travelling to their 'Macedonia' despite the challenges and personal risks.
There's a raft of commentary that has been published around the probable changes to mission as a result of the global pandemic. Inevitably there will be many impacts, and already I've seen a powerful example of what I believe God has in mind for us to consider.
Our Government has responded to the needs of refugees, settling many from Asian countries in people-group communities within our cities. A young lady had responded to God's clear call to go 'over there' to a particular people group before C-19 became an issue for us all. Plans were at an advanced stage for her to go. But God had other ideas, providing her with remarkable evidence that she was to work among the growing number of refugees from that same country settling into a new life in a NZ city.
While God's calling and grip on our hearts to engage in His mission never changes, let's all expect and wonder at what God might have us do in order to achieve that! As the well-worn cliché puts it, "We can't put God in a box". He will enable us to achieve great things for Him, no matter what; Covid-19 or not.
After all, consider how Paul changed his method in a situation beyond his control. And maybe, just maybe, our 'Macedonia' is right on our back door step!
GC3 Operations Director